INDIANAPOLIS -- It took the team's longest losing streak since 1964, a second consecutive playoff miss and week after week of losing, but the Denver Broncos might have finally decided they are comfortable in their football skin.
The Broncos not only won their second consecutive game for the first time since wins in Weeks 1 and 2, they also, for the fifth time, ran the ball more (45 times) than they passed it (26) in a game this season. And for the fifth time they won such a game.
"I just think it shows this roster was put together to win football games," said running back C.J. Anderson. "We're winning football games the way we want to. And every day we're just trying to emphasize, go off that and preach that. ... It just sucks we had to lose eight straight for something like this to happen. Because we know if we play a clean football game, if our defense is playing lights-out and we can run the football the way we can run the football, we can compete with any team in the league."
Oh, they have stubbed their toes plenty on offense this season. Their 19 interceptions, including Trevor Siemian's in the first quarter Thursday night, are the second-highest total in the league, and during their eight-game losing streak they scored more than 19 points only once.
But in the almost constant cycling at quarterback, through offensive coordinator Mike McCoy getting fired, through the building frustrations of a team that expected far more than it has delivered, the Broncos have finally settled into a pound-it-out rhythm over the past two games.
Interim offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has shown more two-tight end, two-back formations than the team ran in the losing streak. The Broncos also have played a little more cleanly, so they could afford to be a little more patient.
On Thursday night that meant they played hammer-to-nail offense against the Colts as they rushed for a season-best 213 yards, with 158 of those coming from Anderson. He had a season-high 30 carries, and the Broncos pounded out 462 yards of offense overall.
In their past two games they've run the ball 80 times. In these pass-happy times, that isn't glamorous and won't get them any innovation points, but it fits these Broncos and they wear it well.
"If we're in the right kind of game, we can get [Anderson] his touches and he can help us pound people," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. "He's a volume back. ... You can see what he can do, he can run through tackles."
Musgrave has called plays for the past four games and the Broncos have settled into things after some choppy moments early on. Asked Thursday night if Musgrave had called games more closely to what he'd envisioned for the offense, Joseph said, "I'll say this about that: When you're in an even game, you can stay with the running game. ... It's simply being in one-score games."
On Thursday nobody benefited more from all of that than Brock Osweiler, who is on a one-year deal with the Broncos and trying to rebuild his career and confidence after a bumpy ride with the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. Osweiler came on after Siemian injured his left shoulder in the first quarter, and he finished 12-of-17 passing for 194 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown.
"I love coach Musgrave," Osweiler said. "And I've told him that many times this year. I just love his approach that he brings to the building every day, the way he leads the offensive unit, how he calls plays, and the things he says in our earpiece during games. He's just a tremendous coach and I can't say enough great things about him."
In the end, this is all too little, too late, but there are lessons to be learned for all involved, including Joseph as he closes out his first year as a head coach. The Broncos won't be in the postseason, but in their locker room Thursday night some veteran players couldn't help but wonder: If the Broncos had found themselves sooner, would things have been different?
"Either it was the defense smoking the game, special teams smoking the game, or the offense smoking the game. We've got to play together as a unit," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "All three phases, if we do that, we win those games."
Said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.: "We have a lot of guys in this locker room who have been champions. We play to win, no matter what. We're not in the playoffs, but we finally played how we should play. ... Just wish we could've found it sooner, all of us."